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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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Not every ostrich …

Uploaded: Mar 14, 2020

A few thoughts on community and covid-19

… who buries his head in the sand – nor every human who parks his skull in a similarly dark place – dies as a result. That doesn’t mean either approach is a good strategy in a crisis.

Point One. This may not feel like an occasion to count blessings, but there might be no more important time to do so. That’s because we live in circumstances of remarkable safety – from disasters, war, crime and pestilence. According to author Steven Pinker ("The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined"), the human world has simply never been safer generally. And we in this Valley enjoy the nearly risk-free best of that world.

We are very lucky, because that safety has been built on the brains, shoulders and backs of others who put us in these favored positions – we may have helped, but our accidents of birth, capabilities, opportunities and good fortune are plainly just that: an incredible string of luck.

We are also fortunate to live in community with each other – we can depend on each other. Most of the time, that’s pretty effortless. We obey red lights, pay taxes, and maybe even volunteer in ways that contribute to the Common Good. These are baseline duties we owe each other, in recognition that nobody goes it alone, or has to.

Sometimes, not going it alone means that more is required – that we extend a hand or take extra precautions to ensure that no harm comes to others. That could be considered a burden, but it is also an opportunity – it’s all in how you choose to look at it. If you’ve ever gotten a little kick out of doing some small thing directly for someone else, then this is a chance to get that same kind of kick, directly or indirectly.


As an aside, I sometimes wonder whether life is maybe too easy, hereabouts. In my daughter’s Vermont environs, ‘community’ means a lot more. Her household has a tractor, someone else a chain saw, another one a splitter, and voila: firewood for all. Her husband ascribes some of the credit to the often-harsh weather conditions – people need to know that they can depend on each other, and they practice.

He may be right – I do know that I miss that sense of togetherness, all up and down my street and neighborhood. Proximity is not the same as community. When we need firewood, we get it at Safeway, or we rent a power saw from Cresco, or advertise on Next Door to pay someone to come split it. Something important is lost in this atomized way of living.


So, in our region’s current pandemic emergency, we are all – both the more-and-less vulnerable - asked to curtail activities, the better to slow the spread of contagion and keep it within the limited capacities of our health care system. But is there more you might do? Is there an elderly neighbor who might be checked-with? Or someone with a frail immune system for whom you might brave the rough-and-tumble of Costco? Could you reassure a couple that if they’re both hospitalized, you’ll look after their pets? The things we can do for each other are bounded only by our imaginations in getting outside of ourselves.

Now is a very good time to do so. And those good little kicks await.

Point Two. Expertise matters - somebody always knows more than you do – and it’s time to rely on them. It may be fashionable in some quarters to doubt ‘the elites’ – to believe that any one person’s opinion is as valuable as another’s, especially if it’s loud. That just ain’t so. As the world becomes ever more complex and interrelated, the role of expertise only grows more important, not less. We rely on ignorant or self-interested perspectives at our increasing peril – and in this pandemic, ignorant reliance can be fatal – to you and others. In good times, we can be wrong without consequence, but not now.

There’s an important 2018 book that bears on our current situation – it’s been largely overlooked. In ‘The Fifth Risk’, author Michael Lewis* (‘Moneyball’, ‘The Big Short’) discusses the hollowing-out of government. Those in power have compromised our government’s role as a source of safety and contributor of community. He argues that expertise and forward planning are crucial in those functions – and that both are currently at-risk.

Lewis focuses on DOE, USDA and Commerce, but those lessons are front-and-center in our current health crisis. A government eviscerated, where expertise is derided, ignored or excised, cannot govern. That leaves us all exposed. The author excoriates the current administration for its clear record of deep dis-interest in actually governing (that includes pandemic prep). There is no question that it has left us all exposed to crises, and it is statistically certain that there will be crises.

Government can be called Bureaucracy, or The Swamp, or worse – but it contains our capacity as a people to respond to contingencies. A year ago, Dr. Fauci might’ve been attackable as some deep-state, pointy-head on the cushy dole from us all – but who among us wants to be without his deep knowledge now? Would you really prefer the ‘savant’ whose primary credential is an uncle who may have worked at MIT?

This is a time for humility about what we don’t know, and renewed respect for those who’ve invested their life’s work in actually knowing it.

And Point Three. Panic and Preparation are not synonymous. We can laugh and point at “bath tissue” hoarders (although as for me, I’ve laid-in a considerable stash of coffee). Some of the runs we’re witnessing have little to do with the, uh, runs. But at the same time, who would argue with the wise adage ‘prevention beats cure’? If ridicule of hoarders leads you to fail to plan to offset your own looming shortages, then Aesop has a fable for your consideration. Those hoarders are, after all, at least trying to get ready for certain inevitabilities.

Our world of uber-convenience doesn’t favor planning – normally, Amazon can have it (whatever it is) here tomorrow, for free. Except not now. Every frivolous trip puts you at-risk, along with everyone else you contact and/or care about. Time to hunker down, and planning is a crucial element in hunkering.

You find out what people are made-of not when times are good, but when they’re hard and stressful – when folks are under pressure. This is ultimately a plea to strengthen our community bonds, to dig-out and not bury our best selves in the sands of this crisis.

Good luck, stay home and be well!

* The NY Times suspended its weekly book podcast this week, and substituted-in their coverage of The Fifth Risk from 10/2018. Link:
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Mar 14, 2020 at 9:01 pm

Nice article Tom.
I remember the early fifties, the Polio scare, getting my Polio injection.

Posted by Pete, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 9:36 am

Tom, screw the neighborly approach, been there done that. Majority of new comers/and/or existing do not want to risk that burden of sacrifice. How about the dad/father who leave their pregnant/ and/or young children, to manage, on their own. How about those brothers/sisters who are so self-absorbed with themselves that they can not reach out with help to assist existing siblings to help with mom/dad.
Anyhow, we may be safer... but the disconnect is cowardly/and shows the state we are in. Do not blame it on existing government, it's been brewing for quite some time...before this administration.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 10:19 am

hi there pete...get lost! you need lots of toilet paper...please

It is good to help others and now is the right time. Listen up...if there is anybody in Plutonia who wants to bake me a super yummy chocolate cake with berries on top, I will graciously accept it! Thank You!

I will wash my hands before and after I chew it up...that's the of person I am.


Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 10:28 am

Trump is a pathological liar and there's no reason to believe that he's telling the truth about having even tested, much less tested negative...duh...

Web Link

Posted by pete, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 10:48 am

You creep, trick pony

Posted by Malcolm Hex, a resident of San Ramon,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 11:14 am

It was just a matter of time before Tom “the finger pointer" Cushing came out out blamed Trump. Politics apparently still rule the roost in Cushing's world.

Posted by Neighbor Pete?, a resident of Birdland,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 11:16 am

Certainly glad Pete is not my neighbor.

I don't want to be put in danger given your negative attitude and glad I won't be wasting my efforts to help someone like you rather than real neighbors.

Cholo - your one unique individual. I like to bake so give me your address and I'll drop off treat. You can decide if I santitized adequately or

Posted by Jake Waters, a resident of Birdland,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 11:36 am

@ Malcolm Hex

Lol. Thank you Malcolm for making that observation, because I recognized Tom's handy work immediately. He starts with all the warm syrup , and then in his subtle liberal way (don't let a crisis go to waste mentality), he reads a book that fits his narrative and off he goes to bash Trump. I wasn't going to respond, because it brings out his troll supporters from their cave, and his rants generally go the way of CNN.

Oh, well. It gives me something to laugh about.

Posted by American, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 11:40 am

It is very sad that even now with this global crisis people still insist on making everything political...When every country announced closing borders people are still accusing our President of being "racist" for taking immediate action back in end of January to stop travel from China...If we as a country can not even put politics aside during this nightmare crisis there is really no hope for unity ever...Being a good neighbor and helping others is not a Republican or Democrat trait, it should be an American trait, and now especially during Lent, we need to stop with the constant political attacks and focus on helping each other thru this crisis..I agree with Tom that taking simple steps to show others we care is important, and good for your own soul as well...Social distancing does not mean not sending emails or texts to friends, neighbors, see how they are doing, do they need anything...I would love to see Biden and Bernie instead of attacking everything our President does, instead offer to work with him, offer assistance, praise when earned...It is time to put country over party.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 11:51 am

Tom Cushing is a registered user.

Hi Pete: every community bus has 'free riders' - those who benefit from it but do not share in its burdens. They make it harder for everyone else, putting the community at-risk. There are body parts synonymous with those individuals. I share your frustration and dislike their actions as much as you do.

But isn't the question whether the rest of us will use the freeloaders as an excuse to join them? Alternatively, we can recognize that there is jerkitude everywhere - and thus ignore them at least, or try (even) harder?

Your mileage may vary, but I see this as an 'eyes on the prize' situation. The freeloaders are noise in the system, but the signal remains the critical thing on which we can focus.

There are folks on Next Door, for example, volunteering to be PM'd for help with errands, care, kids, pets, etc. I expect those may evolve into a kind of neighborhood clearinghouse function - a very positive thing that might endure beyond the current crisis. I admire what they're doing and want to help. Maybe they're the better focus?

Posted by MichaelB, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 12:02 pm

MichaelB is a registered user.

"Government can be called Bureaucracy, or The Swamp, or worse �" but it contains our capacity as a people to respond to contingencies. A year ago, Dr. Fauci might've been attackable as some deep-state, pointy-head on the cushy dole from us all �" but who among us wants to be without his deep knowledge now? Would you really prefer the ‘savant' whose primary credential is an uncle who may have worked at MIT?"

Who has more "deep knowledge"? A trained/experienced MD or the typical politician/bureaucrat who claims their belief system/agenda to run government is supposedly the best for the nation?

Would you really prefer the previous "savant" whose contingency plan for economic prosperity in our nation was to blame the "1%" for people doing poorly, create a tax/regulatory burden to make it harder for businesses to hire people when we needed more employment, lecture the same business owners that "you didn't build that", and to take more from those who earn and give to those who do not claiming it was the only way for people to economically advance?

There was no "deep knowledge" here at all for those who know anything about economics and how businesses actually operate. The predictable poor growth results spoke for themselves. Voters didn't want more of the same in 2016.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 12:10 pm

Tom Cushing is a registered user.

Pete again: here's a pretty good article from the Washington Post that shows how these counter-measures don't need to be perfect (the partial quarantine case in particular), but are still worth doing - the ultimate key is to keep the infection rate below the capacity of the medical system to treat it.

Web Link

The freeloaders reduce effectiveness, but they do not defeat the strategy. Screw the freeloaders.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 12:18 pm

Tom Cushing is a registered user.

Okay trogs, I was aware you'd show up, and you've said your shopworn peace, for what it's worth - as did I in the blog. We can both stand by it.

That said, I have no interest in this thread being turned into a partisan slugfest, meaning that further political commentary will simply disappear.

Happy/hope to entertain other kinds of comments.

Posted by pope john, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 3:32 pm

pope john is a registered user.

All of us will have to resort to rules of monasticism type life style. If the Government does not slow this virus down, "flatten the curve", there will be a National shut down. National Guard vehicles will be in our streets.

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